Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review - Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris's The Diamond Conspiracy

The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are reveling in each other as they return home from the United States. They are finally as one, on the field and in the bedroom. Though their luxuriant revels come to an end when Eliza gets a ping from the distress beacon she left with her maid Alice and the street urchins that are under her protection, known as the Ministry Seven. They race to their rendezvous point in France to discover that their situation is dire. Queen Victoria has decided that The Ministry is a danger to her reign, and in particular to her plans for her Diamond Jubilee, and is using her other secret organization, the Department of Imperial Inconveniences to eliminate the Ministry. The Department in their signature tweed has been dispatching Ministry agents around the globe with alarming efficiency. Though the Ministry is far from beaten. Director Sound has enacted Shadow Protocol and the disparate agents from around the world are gathering, to regroup and figure out just why they were such a danger to the Queen and how they can stop her.

Half the fun of two strong leads is the will they won't they factor. More then one story has hinged on the sexual tension between the protagonists, or antagonists as it were. The problem that arises from this situation is that if you lead your audience on for too long they get frustrated. Likewise, if the relationship doesn't successfully gel after consummation, then you are in another dire situation, and sometimes go to drastic lengths to solve this problem, yes I'm looking at you Battlestar Galactica. An unsuccessful resolution has spelled the end for many franchises; it is what I like to call the Moonlighting factor, and yes, I know I'm not the only one to use this delightful eighties show as the case study for what not to do with a storyline. Moonlighting quite literally imploded when the leads, Maddie Hayes and David Addison, slept together at the end of the third season. The show spiraled out of control with a lame marriage plot and Maddie miscarrying her and David' child, till a show that was so bright ended with a whimper and the too appropriate epitaph "romance is a fragile thing." Therefore, while I have been delighting in the romance brewing between Books and Braun, I was also very wary.

Yet the time had more then come for Books and Braun to finally get their act together. The previous installment, Dawn's Early Light, was the tipping point with their antagonism and jealous acts. The Diamond Conspiracy opens up with the agents in full blissful coupledom. And here is where I say that thankfully they have avoided all the snares and dangers that were in their paths, huzzah! All gadgets and gizmos have been disarmed and dismantled and what has emerged is even sexier then before. Pip and Tee have managed to keep the tension between Welly and Eliza while simultaneously having their relationship develop into the next stage. Their blissful journey across the Atlantic and their stolen moments are what true sexual chemistry is all about. Yet, to me, the most romantic aspect is not their sexual chemistry, but the way they work as a team. They know the other one always has their back. They are a perfect unit and it is this connection that brings back the fresh dynamic of the first book in this series as it simultaneously sets a sturdier base for continued adventures.

With this consummation of their attraction and their developing relationship we have a very character driven story which spills out into the rest of the book. I think this is the best thing that could have happened for this series. The characters have always been the heart of the story, they have always shone while the plot flounders. The Diamond Conspiracy has stripped down this unwieldy universe that Pip and Tee have created and made it hinge on the human element. They have pulled in all the disparate elements and agents from around the globe that have featured in the Tales from the Archives and parred it down to a manageable amount. At times prior to reading this installment I have felt that their world with all it's tangential stories was almost too hard to hold onto, all the different threads of all these different stories turning to water in my hands and running away from me. This felt like a great spring cleaning, the house has been made new by brushing the cobwebs away. The Diamond Conspiracy feels like a new start for all our characters and it has invigorated me, in fact after finishing the book I felt so optimistic that I didn't want to pick up the next book I had ready to go and instead I started to clean my library, and yes, this is a very daunting task and perhaps shouldn't be started late on a Sunday night... what can I say, the book did it to me!

The feeling of this new beginning though needs to have follow through. The Big Bad of these books has gone a little blurg. While Doctor Jekyll does have a lot going for him as the ultimate puppet master, I seriously might go crazy if Sophia del Morte shows up yet again. In my mind she has never nor will never bring anything to these books. There comes a point when new evils need to be faced and the old evils put away. If there's one thing that I can't stand is the magical return of some long defeated foe. Pip and Tee have defeated quite a few, now let them all rest. Bring in a new villain to go with the new outlook on this series. Keep developing the villains just as Books and Braun's relationship has developed. But don't bring in new angles on old foes. Yes, that little twist that you end The Diamond Conspiracy with is interesting, but still, it's just the old with a twist of the new. The worst season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is easily season seven, because they brought back a villain who could also mimic every other villain ever seen on the show. Please. Move it along.

Despite my little rant there, the villains and their dirty deeds were really just a blip, they were part and parcel of the story and is more a warning rant then anything specific in this volume. The truth is this was a near perfect return to form if it hadn't been for the H.G. Wells factor. In previous volumes august personages have made appearances, as is logical for there are distinct people who unknowingly formed what we now know as Steampunk. From Edison to Tesla to Wells, their visions of the future formed the literature of the future, and the television shows, and the movies. The problem I have with Wells is that it comes too close to another Steampunk franchise I love, and that's Warehouse 13. There is no denying the similarities of The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and Warehouse 13. With Wellington's archive and the Warehouse, we have two places that collect and store dangerous Steampunky artifacts, occasionally using them to solve their cases. One is present, one is past, I have no problem with them coexisting in my brain or in the world. What I do have a problem with is H.G. Wells being in both in such a similar manner. And H.G. was part of the Warehouse team over a year before the very first Ministry book came out. Just saying, even if Wells is so important to the Steampunk movement, perhaps Wells needs a little distance from the Ministry to not feel like a rip-off.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…

Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.

But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself..."

So excited for this book, PLUS stop by next week, I'm an official stop on the blog tour!

At Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
Published by: Spiegel and Grau
Publication Date: March 31st, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.

The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.

As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities."

Anyone else thinking what I'm thinking? That Sara Gruen has to have "water" in all her book titles?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review Stephanie Burgis's Courting Magic

Courting Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Five Fathoms Press
Publication Date: August 10th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 105 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Kat has fought countless magical battles but she has never had to face the horror of making her debut in society. Her sisters have taken her coming out in hand and have the top modiste creating Kat's wardrobe, much to Kat's chagrin; there are too many pins! But her first ball is looking like it just might be interesting. There is a thief making a swath through the ton by impersonating famous personages and making off with jewels and other valuables. It is a magical crisis that is to be stopped. In order to hide the investigation Kat and three other male magicians will go to the ball with the three men paying court to Kat and posing as eligible husbands. Problem is Kat would actually really like one of them to be her husband. Alexander, the by-blow of the last head of her Order, awoken her heart years ago and she has found that despite their very different statuses in the world that he just might be her true love. But can love overcome society's strictures? Well, Kat's never played by society's rules anyway!

Do you ever finish a series and think, I wonder what the characters will be like in the future? What will they be like in five or ten or twenty years? Rarely in literature are we given this luxury to pop into their future lives just for a quick glimpse after the book or series of books ends. If it does happen at all it's usually squeezed into an afterword that is more frustrating then illuminating. This is why I think television shows sometimes do the gimmicky "what happened to all of our characters in the years to come" flash forwards in the last five minutes of their series finale, human's insatiable need to have closure. Rarely are these quick impressions satisfying. There is no development, no time to have one last adventure, just an addendum thrown to us as a bone. That is why I am so grateful for Courting Magic. When the Kat, Incorrigible series ended we got a tiny glimpse of what Kat's HEA might be, but being only thirteen, well, she wasn't ready to be out in society let alone be married. Yet there was a wistfulness and a longing that just maybe we could one day find out about Kat's own HEA.

Skip forward two years and Stephanie is giving fans what they hoped for. The problem with Courting Magic is that it doesn't fit neatly into the series, it's short, and I don't think it could even be considered middle grade, being more romantic and definitely the most Austenesque of all Kat's adventures. But that's what I love about the age in publishing we live in. Sure, we can complain all we want about the rise of the e-reader and the downfall of printed books, but before this era would Kat's story have been given closure? NO! It couldn't be published traditionally, for the aforementioned reasons, and how else could we have gotten it? Bless authors willing to embrace new mediums in order to tell the story the way they want to. I'm not going to go on a rant about technology here, I just really want to point out that sometimes technology is there for a reason and helps us, here we got closure.

While this whole series has been about love, familial love, and of course the marriages of Angeline and Elissa, Kat being younger and our protagonist, we didn't get the swoon worthy love that Austen was known for. Kat's story here is more typical Austen, coming out in society, a ball, and a proposal. Throw in some stumbling blocks, aka Alexander's status in society, and it's a very typical Regency love story. Kat is anything but typical. So of course, throw in magic, a sweet and hilarious reunion with the magically tainted Cousin Lucy, a cringe worthy run in with the Prince Regent, a couple of awkward dances, a thief worthy of the Pink Panther movies, and the bad guys being caught and you get the perfect blend of Austen and Kat. Not to mention a last minute reversal of fortune and Kat has her ideal HEA!

But what I wholeheartedly embrace is that Kat's HEA is anything but typical, in true Kat fashion. Firstly, she ends up with someone who has the same career path as she does, saving England by using magic. This means that Kat doesn't have to ever hide who she is let alone have to choose between her duty and her heart; that would destroy Kat and we can't have that. Secondly it's her true love! And no, she didn't double check with her mother's spell, she just knows. The moment she first met Alexander it was fate, but having them reconnect years later, sigh, it's almost as satisfying as when Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth finally get their HEA! But the clincher for me was that in her enthusiasm to finally end up with Alexander Kat inadvertently was the one to propose. She always has been a mold breaker, and I'm happy to read that a few years down the line that that hasn't changed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Stolen Magic

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Kat Stephenson and her family are off to Devon to the Carlyle's great estate on the coast for the long delayed marriage of Kat's sister Angeline to Fredrick Carlyle, her true love. Why the delay? Because Fredrick's mother was none too keen on the match, hoping to marry Fredrick to her niece Jane; besides being against the whole Angeline's a witch thing. One thing is clear, Mrs. Carlyle is going to put Angeline through the ringer in a final effort to see the back of her. But would Fredrick's mother resort to attempted murder to get her way? Because the Stephenson's have had a perilous journey, their coach almost rolling off a cliff to the ocean far below, and it was no accident. But who was behind the accident? Unbeknownst to most of the family they have not been travelling to Devon alone. There is a mysterious and magical person shadowing Kat, and she's not sure of their motivation.

Much like the hurtles Angeline has faced to reach her wedding day, Kat has had many obstacles in her induction to the Order of the Guardians. The induction is finally approaching when yet another delay happens. Kat sacrificed her magical portal to save England and her need for a new one has caused much consternation in the Order. You would think it would be easy to get a new one, but all the replacement portals have disappeared and the lovely Lady Fortherington is gleeful to point her finger at Kat once again, especially when it looks like the portals are somewhere in Devon. So not only does Kat have to prove her innocence, yet again, she has to work with her nemesis Lady Fortherington, prepare for the wedding, keep everyone alive and safe, and hope that all the delays end happily for all involved.

What I most loved about this "final" installment in Kat's magical journey is that while still channelling Jane Austen, Stephanie Burgis has decided to throw a little Daphne Du Maurier into the mix. Devon, being so close to Cornwall, has had it's fair share of wreckers and smugglers, and spies! The cliffs are honeycombs, hiding secrets that could imperil our erstwhile heroine. Not to mention you can get some damn good spirits down the local pub. The environment permeated the book with it's sea air and wind swept clifftops making me think longingly of Jamaica Inn. Burgis has been able to fuse the feeling of propriety that is Austen with this wildness that belongs to Du Maurier as she emulates the Brontes for yet another strong middle grade book that shows that there are great books for this age group.

Despite the fact that Kat is the youngest sibling in her family it just struck me how unique this is if we compare it to other literature set during this time, versus other middle grade books. The younger children, if mentioned at all, rarely figure into the narrative other then just part and parcel of the chaos of everyday life. We will excuse Lydia Bennet because she doesn't play by anyone's rules. Look at Sense and Sensibility, the youngest daughter, Margaret Dashwood, she's just there doing whatever and is hardly mentioned, in some adaptations they even just drop her all together. What I'm saying is that usually we get the older, "wiser" POV, but here there's something magical about seeing it through the eyes of a rambunctious youngster. Kat has an advantage being the youngest, because not only has she observed her older siblings all their lives, but being the youngest, there's a little leeway. She does love to cause trouble and there seems to be an indulgence in this, even if she's frowned upon at the same time.

Also by being the youngest she is allowed a certain excess of emotion. She is allowed to cry without it being viewed as indulgent. Yet what I love in the way Burgis writes Kat is that Kat is allowed to be vulnerable, she's allowed several times to break down and cry because of the emotional drain and chaos that surrounds her. She is allowed to give way to her emotions but at the same time she is strong. I always hate, what I will call the "There's No Crying in Baseball" rule. That you must be strong or vulnerable, there is no middle ground. This isn't how humans work. We aren't just strong and we aren't just weepy, we are a combination of the two. The strongest amongst us can also be the easiest to cry. By showing this complicated nature that is humanity, Burgis is showing young girls and boys that you don't always have to be strong, you can be a hero or a heroine and still cry. I love that this is such a positive message, such a true message. 

And Kat is able to have periods of vulnerability because she is surrounded by people who love her. Kat has always been a little rebellious and more the a little self sufficient. Over time though, while she can still handle all these hurtles thrown in her path, she has realized the strength of family. The hardest thing for any headstrong girl, yes, here I'm pointing the finger at myself, is when to acknowledge you can't do something on your own and when you realize it's not a weakness to ask for help. Here Kat's family knows her so well that she doesn't even need to ask for the help, it's just there. I love that Charles has really stepped up. In the first book he was little more then a lump in bed that caused the family untold troubles. By the second volume he was central, but as a source of consternation and also in need of rescue. By this volume we see that he has mended his ways and is taking on the role of protector of the family, even if this mainly means protecting Kat from herself. I kind of fell in love with Charles a little for how he's matured.

As for the magic? I like that there appears to be an entente brewing between the warring factions of Guardian magic and witchcraft. To me it seemed silly that they should hate each other just because they are different forms of the same thing. They are both reviled by society so it makes sense that uniting their powers together to form a united front is a logical step. But far be it from people of any kind to be logical. They latched onto their differences instead of embracing their similarities. Of course the French had no such compunction when it comes to this missishness. All for victory and that. So I'm glad that the prejudices will hopefully start to break down if only out of necessity. But I'm even more excited for Kat who has vindicated her mother's opinions all these years later.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Cavendon Women by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Cavendon Women, the stunning sequel to Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Cavendon Hall follows the Inghams’ and the Swanns’ journey from a family weekend in the summer of 1926 through to the devastation of the Wall Street crash of 1929. It all begins on a summer weekend in July of 1926 when, for the first time in years, the earl has planned a family weekend. As the family members come together, secrets, problems, joys, and sorrows are revealed. As old enemies come out of the shadows and the Swanns’ loyalty to the Ingham gets tested in ways none of them could have predicted, it’s up to the Cavendon women to band together and bring their family into a new decade, and a new way of life."

The first book in this series was easily one of my favorites that I read this year for Downton Denial, so I'm rather excited for this sequel coming so soon after I finished the first volume!

The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With over one million copies sold, this series of modern classics about the charming Penderwick family, from National Book Award winner and New York Times bestseller Jeanne Birdsall, is perfect for fans of Noel Streatfeild and Edward Eager.

Springtime is finally arriving on Gardam Street, and there are surprises in store for each member of the family.

Some surprises are just wonderful, like neighbor Nick Geiger coming home from war. And some are ridiculous, like Batty’s new dog-walking business. Batty is saving up her dog-walking money for an extra-special surprise for her family, which she plans to present on her upcoming birthday. But when some unwelcome surprises make themselves known, the best-laid plans fall apart.

Filled with all the heart, hilarity, and charm that has come to define this beloved clan, The Penderwicks in Spring is about fun and family and friends (and dogs), and what happens when you bring what's hidden into the bright light of the spring sun."

Um, how long has it been since we've gotten to spend time with the Penderwicks in a new adventure? Yes, the answer is way too long!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Renegade Magic

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After Kat's sister Angeline loses her true love Fredrick during their older sister's wedding thanks to the interference of Lady Fotherington, the girls stepmother whisks them away to Bath to avoid scandal. With the public renouncing of Angeline as a witch their stepmother hopes that by going to Bath Angeline can get herself an eligible bachelor before the gossip reaches the resort town. But their stepmother isn't counting on the fact that Fredrick is Angeline's true love and she's not about to just give up on him because of his family's objections. Angeline has a plan, a plan put into place by the accidental meeting of the rake and reprobate, the Viscount Scarwood. He is a totally unsuitable match, so perfect for Angeline's purposes.

But Angeline's future happiness isn't the only future in jeopardy. The head of the Order of Guardians, Lord Ravenscroft, with Lady Fotherington's interference, has taken away all Kat's hopes of being trained as a Guardian. They insist she is too headstrong and has violent tendencies. She only broke Lady Fotherington's nose the once, are they going to hold that against her forever? Her tutor, Mr. Gregson, insists that he will champion her if she just lays low. Sadly when Kat and her family show up in Bath there's a mysterious magical happening that the Guardians are investigating and her enemies are quick to point the finger at Kat. How can she lay low when she needs to help her family and help the Order? Just because they don't want her as a Guardian doesn't mean it's not in her blood. But they might not see her actions as altruistic but opportunistic.

Bath! What could be more Austenesque then Bath? Not only did Austen live (and hating living) in Bath for five years, but two of her scant six novels have action set there. The Jane Austen Centre is located in Bath and each year the town plays host to the Jane Austen Festival with people coming from around the globe to take part in honoring one of the greatest writers the world has known. But just setting a story in Bath, while a touchstone to Austen, isn't enough, in my mind; there has to be something more. A little adventure, a little spice, a little history. While there is adventure and spice, it's the history that Burgis infuses into the story that she then manipulates to her narrative that is so arresting. I am referring to the hot springs that are the source of the towns fame.

The Assembly Rooms and the Roman Baths became the go to place in the Georgian era for a restorative cure in this spa town. The Romans themselves actually built the baths and a temple, hence the Georgian moniker the "Roman Baths." Burgis was able to give more of a connection to these springs and the customs surrounding them by having Kat give her visceral reaction to "taking the waters" at the assembly room. One would think of dainty women circling the Assembly Rooms and having a nice gossip, but in reality they were jammed with people and that cool refreshing glass of restorative water was anything but. It was straight from the hot springs, hot being key. So the water was warm and sulfurous, therefore having that lovely odor of rotten eggs. One doesn't often think of the gentility of this time in realistic ways, but Burgis has this knack to show the truth while giving us a romping good time.

Burgis also expands on the history of the springs, and the goddess that the Romans worshiped. Because this book has magic, anything can happen with an incantation to a deity, and anything does. The combining of the real history and the magical possibilities is such a good fusion that it doesn't leave you questioning why something happens, it just makes sense. But my favorite part of all has to be the fact that it's book knowledge that bests magic in the end. It's not some old incantation or a secret spell that's unearthed, it's knowing that prior to the Romans's worshiping their goddess, there was another goddess that ruled. I just love the bookish guy being the victor in the end. Books for life!

The magic of the spring brings another interesting twist to the worldbuilding that Burgis has done. Instead of being either witchcraft or Guardian magic there is a third, more dangerous magic, wild magic. I love that there's this magic that existed before the other harnessed magics that is still thrumming through Britain and can trump the rest. Witchcraft is the easier for using spells and drawing little power, Guardian magic is more refined, it's inborn and therefore a part of you and just flows out, therefore able to easily squash witchcraft. But now there's wild magic! Magic that has the power of the Gods behind it. Magic that can not be contained and makes all other magic insignificant. I love that this world Burgis has built is expanding and evolving to encompass more instead of being formulaic and the same story told in a different way over and over again.

What I can't wait for is the further expansion of this world. While the war with France had previously been mentioned, I'm glad to see that Burgis isn't discounting the power that magic could have in that war, just look what two magician's did in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell! The British Government obviously has some sort of connection with the Guardians, but how much is the secrecy of magic tied to the Government's wishes? Is the hatred of magic and it's place in society a kind of propaganda done by the Government so they can keep it in control and on their side? Because near the end of the book I started to wonder if perhaps the French Government maybe had a different view on magic. There's no denying that Britain and France have often been at two very opposite ends of the spectrum, so maybe in France magic isn't disreputable? Maybe in France a Guardian would be worshipped publicly as a hero? One thing is sure, I'm grabbing the next book to see how this all plays out!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Kat isn't your typical girl. When her family is facing money problems due to her older brother's profligate ways, she decides to cut off her hair and run away to London to make her fortune and save her family. Never mind that the idea is more then a little ill conceived, her heart was in the right place. But her stepmother has a foolproof plan, and that's to marry off Kat's sister, and her eldest stepchild, Elissa, to the wealthy Sir Neville. This is something Kat and her other sister Angeline don't view as acceptable. Angeline has heard the rumors that he killed his first wife and despite what society thinks and how their stepmother would frown on her plan, Angeline decides to use magic to help them out of this hole.

The girl's real mother was a powerful magician, something that made her an eccentric outcast. Something that passed down to her children. Little does Angeline know as she's pouring over her mother's spellbooks, that it's Kat who has the real power. Kat is to inherit her mother's legacy and become a Guardian, under the tutelage of her mother's teacher, Mr. Gregson. Though once Kat learns all this she's having none of it. She's going to help her family and get on with her life, and that life isn't going to be complicated by a secret organization that she's uncertain of, even if that organization might help her with the Sir Neville problem.

For some reason I have found myself picking up a lot of middle grade books recently. Whether for my blog or my book club, I have read quite a few lately and been severely disappointed. Some people might say that I have high expectations seeing as these books where written with a younger audience in mind. But the truth is, as authors and readers, this is the age to hook kids. If I hadn't found Elizabeth Levy and her delightful "Something Queer Mysteries" series staring Jill, Gwen, and Fletcher, at this precise "middle grade" age, well, I highly doubt you'd be reading any book reviews written by me. So when reading middle grade books I try to read them not only as if current me is reading them, but as if that little ten year old me is too. I have to say, ten year old me would have loved the heck out of Kat, Incorrigible, and thirty something me really enjoyed it as well.

With re-reading, and also having previously read so many Regency books with a magical bent, I found it fascinating to find a book that tackled the idea of magic existing in that society in an entirely different way. From Susanna Clarke to Mary Robinette Kowal, magic is not only accepted, but viewed as an enhancement to life, used for the betterment of society from conflicts with the French to making your ballroom look spectacular for your yearly fete. Here Burgis has created a society that doesn't look kindly on magic, it is frowned upon. Magic is not something that anyone in polite society would deign to do. Therefore Angeline and later Kat doing magic is a societal no no.

The girls are reminded time and time again by their stepmother that their dearly departed mother was a freak for her magical abilities that she flaunted. Elissa, being a stickler for societal conventions, parrots the party line and her stepmother by adhering to this train of thought and lecturing her younger sisters on it as well. What this has done to society as a whole and is seen in the microcosm of the Stephenson household is that magic has moved underground. Magic is done in secret and is regulated by shadowy organizations but, despite the outward appearance of society, it is more widespread then you would think. Not only is there magic, but there is even distinctions in magic, from the lower witchcraft to the higher Guardian magic, which helps to secretly control all the magic.

At first I was wary of this "Guardian" magic. Yes, it's cool that, unlike witchcraft, it doesn't need spells and is more a force of will. The magic isn't what I was taking umbrage with, it was the fact that there was an Order, capital "O", that regulated everything. I don't know what it is that exactly raised my hackles, but I audibly sighed at yet another secret organization controlling a supernatural force. Seriously, how many secret organizations can one world hold? I know that this is more then a bit hypocritical of me seeing as I love shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Warehouse 13 and The Librarians that all revolve around this trope. In fact, Buffy could be a very good comparison with Mr. Gregson taking on the role of a Watcher... but for some reason I just wasn't willing to initially buy it and I'm not sure I'm sold on it yet, only time will tell. But I will say that as the book progressed it bothered me less and less, so that's something.

I think all the flaws started to fall away because of my love for Kat. She is seriously the most amazing, kick ass, witty heroine you could wish for. I don't joke when I say that literaryily speaking I think that her kindred spirit is Arya Stark from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. They both have this take no prisoners attitude towards life. They both love and care for their family and will protect them above all others. They are confined by the strictures of their society until they start to slowly subvert them. I just adore that Kat is a heroine young (or young at heart) girls can look up to as someone real and amazing that doesn't follow any damsel in distress tropes and is willing to take down titled nobility with a good right hook.

But Kat alone wouldn't work without being surrounded by her sisters. Her sisters bring the book it's believability. They fill the pages with sisterly love but also sisterly strife. While I didn't have a sister growing up this book captures perfectly what I think it must be like, I can only extrapolate from having a brother after all. Her sisters and their affairs of the heart bring a madcap feel that makes the book transcend the typical middle grade fare and made Kat, Incorrigible a fun romp that felt like old time comedies and farces. I dare you to not fall headfirst for this book once the ball starts and the masked bandit appears. It is a situation that a young Jane Austen would have devoured as she herself was known to deftly skewer the literary tropes of her day in her earliest writing. Personally I can't wait to devour the next installment of Kat's adventures. Allons-y!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Prudence by Gail Carriger
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Introducing the Custard Protocol series, in which Alexia Maccon's daughter Prudence travels to India on behalf of Queen, country...and the perfect pot of tea.

When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama ("Rue" to her friends) is bequeathed an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female under similar circumstances would do -- she christens it the Spotted Custard and floats off to India.

Soon, she stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier's wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis (and an embarrassing lack of bloomers), Rue must rely on her good breeding -- and her metanatural abilities -- to get to the bottom of it all..."

I have been waiting, quite literally, YEARS for this book to come out. FINALLY!

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of short fiction from Terry Pratchett, spanning the whole of his writing career from schooldays to Discworld and the present day.

In the four decades since his first book appeared in print, Terry Pratchett has become one of the world's best-selling and best-loved authors. Here for the first time are his short stories and other short-form fiction collected into one volume. A Blink of the Screen charts the course of Pratchett's long writing career: from his schooldays through to his first writing job on the Bucks Free Press, and the origins of his debut novel, The Carpet People; and on again to the dizzy mastery of the phenomenally successful Discworld series.

Here are characters both familiar and yet to be discovered; abandoned worlds and others still expanding; adventure, chickens, death, disco and, actually, some quite disturbing ideas about Christmas, all of it shot through with Terry's inimitable brand of humour. With an introduction by Booker Prize-winning author A.S. Byatt, illustrations by the late Josh Kirby and drawings by the author himself, this is a book to treasure."

Yes, I own the British edition. What is the likelihood I'll buy this one as well? Very likely.

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: March 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Four years after she set sail from England, leaving everything she most loved behind, Maisie Dobbs at last returns, only to find herself in a dangerous place . . .

In Jacqueline Winspear‘s powerful story of political intrigue and personal tragedy, a brutal murder in the British garrison town of Gilbraltar leads Maisie into a web of lies, deceit, and peril.

Spring 1937. In the four years since she left England, Maisie Dobbs has experienced love, contentment, stability—and the deepest tragedy a woman can endure. Now, all she wants is the peace she believes she might find by returning to India. But her sojourn in the hills of Darjeeling is cut short when her stepmother summons her home to England; her aging father Frankie Dobbs is not getting any younger.

But on a ship bound for England, Maisie realizes she isn’t ready to return. Against the wishes of the captain who warns her, “You will be alone in a most dangerous place,” she disembarks in Gibraltar. Though she is on her own, Maisie is far from alone: the British garrison town is teeming with refugees fleeing a brutal civil war across the border in Spain.

Yet the danger is very real. Days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Sephardic Jewish community, Sebastian Babayoff, is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in the case, drawing the attention of the British Secret Service. Under the suspicious eye of a British agent, Maisie is pulled deeper into political intrigue on “the Rock”—arguably Britain’s most important strategic territory—and renews an uneasy acquaintance in the process. At a crossroads between her past and her future, Maisie must choose a direction, knowing that England is, for her, an equally dangerous place, but in quite a different way."

WWII looming, more Maisie, sign me up!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Stephanie Burgis

Stephanie Burgis is one of those lucky Jane Austen lovers who has somehow managed to escape the United States (East Lansing, Michigan to be exact) and relocate to Great Britain, where she now has dual citizenship, I am so jealous. She lives in Wales, after some years in Yorkshire, surrounded by castles (even more jealous) and coffee shops, and one would hope a bookstore or twelve. Stephanie shares her life with her husband Patrick Samphire, who is also a Middle Grade writer among other things. They have two sons, who I am sure will grow up to be book addicts, who could avoid that fate being raised by these two? Stephanie has exquisite tastes in books, and one of her favorite by Austen is Northanger Abbey, which I also adore and view as her most underappreciated book. She is also a huge fan of Caroline Stevermer who happens to be the next featured author this month!

Stephanie has spent much time in school, from the United States to Vienna to England she has learned about music and then writing. I love finding a fellow educational enthusiast who is willing to take the time to learn! Though occasionally it feels as if you'll never be done with school. Writing a vast plethora of short stories, literally over thirty stories for teens and adults, she has turned to writing books, as well as more short stories. After a health setback she took her writing from a darker place to a lighter place, and place a comfort that I know all Janeites feel is home, Regency England. Though Stephanie's has a little some extra, a little magic! Her first book in this series, Kat, Incorrigible, won the 2011 Waverton Good Reads Award for Best Debut Children's Novel by a British Writer, under its UK title, A Most Improper Magick, and rightfully deserved I say! Now let's talk to Stephanie a little more.

Question: When did you first discover Jane Austen?

Answer: My dad read me Pride and Prejudice when I was eight years old, and I fell head-over-heels in love! I ended up devouring all of her novels, and I've re-read almost all of them many times since then.

Question: What do you think Jane Austen would think of her impact with so many literary offshoots, from parody to pastiche?

Answer: I'm sure she'd be pleased by her success, although she might wish she had gotten paid better for the books at the time she originally published them...

Question: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Answer: All of my books feature families, not just solitary characters, and that definitely comes from my own experience growing up in a big, noisy, loving family. As for the rest of it - the setting of my first Kat book, Kat, Incorrigible, was based on Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, where my husband and I used to go almost every weekend to soak in the atmosphere and walk our dog. Walking around Georgian House museums all across the UK was really, really helpful. And the second Kat book, Renegade Magic was directly inspired by my many trips to the city of Bath, and particularly by the wonderful Museum of the Roman Baths, which is amazing. I highly recommend a visit to anyone who ever gets the chance!

Question: What makes the early 19th century mesh so well with magic?

Answer: It's recent enough - and popular enough - to feel accessible even for people who don't generally read historical fiction, but it's also distant enough from our own time period to feel exotic and a bit like a fantasy setting in itself! I think the fact that we accept so many different social rules and expectations when we're reading Regency-era novels sets us up as readers to accept different rules of magic/reality as well.

Question: The world building and system of magic varies greatly in the regency fantasy genre, how did you go about creating yours?

Answer: I loved getting to create different layers of magic and secrecy in my world-building, rather than just having one system of magic. There's the magic everyone knows about (and is horrified by), witchcraft, but then there's also secret Guardian magic and the wild magic that even the Guardians fear. I don't do a lot of plotting or outlining before I write my books, but I discovered all the different layers as I wrote and had a lot of fun with them!

Question: If you had to choose between writing only period literature or only fantasy literature, which would win?

Answer: Fantasy would have to win, for me. I've published lots of contemporary fantasy short stories in various magazines, and the MG novel I'm working on right now is set in a secondary world that's only loosely based on early nineteenth century Germany. But I would never want to give up writing historical fiction, either! I have a historical fantasy novel for adults coming out next year, Masks and Shadows, which is set in a real eighteenth-century palace in Hungary, full of intrigue, magic and romance. It was delicious to get to play with another rich historical setting as I wrote that book. I can't imagine giving up writing historical fiction!

Question: Be honest, have you ever dressed up in Regency clothes just to pretend for a moment you are in the past?

Answer: Ha! No - but only for lack of opportunity. I would loooove to dress up in a real Regency outfit just to feel it for myself instead of having to guess exactly how those gowns really feel on my characters.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett 1948-2015


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review - Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: October 17th, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 1235 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Magic is more prevalent then Jonathan Strange cares to consider as he sees three women reveling in a spell successfully concluded. Mr. Norrell might think that it's only in the past that great magic was done and only in books that one might learn magic, but even the humblest tapestry might have a magical purpose. And love, well, love can make you do almost anything in it's pursuit, even destroy the most magical of enchantments. In these stories Susanna Clarke tells us a few tales of magic and imagination from the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. What happens when the Duke of Wellington's horse goes through a hole in a wall created by Neil Gaiman? What is the result when fairy magic finally brings a long delayed bridge to town? And what happens when the great Raven King, John Uskglass is felled by a simple charcoal burner? Anything might happen with just a touch of magic.

Sometimes we can be dazzled by an author and fail to see what should be apparent. We loved their previous work so this new work must be brilliant, it just must be, how could it be otherwise? We remember what is brilliant and forget the chaff. Never is this more apparent then in a collection of short stories where it's easy to forget the bad and only cling to the memorable. In the two years between reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu Susanna Clarke had become my favorite author so I thought she could do no wrong. The stories I didn't like I assumed I just didn't understand. Plus, there could be no denying the gorgeous production value of the book with Charles Vess's illustrations, which add another level of distractive beauty. I have since come to realize the humanity and fallibility of authors more and realized just what a mixed bag The Ladies of Grace Adieu really is.

The problem is that sometimes these stories take themselves too seriously. Yet Clarke's work works when she doesn't take herself too seriously and seems to have an arched brow over even the most trifling of matters. In Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell anything that might be too serious is brought down a peg with a well placed wry footnote. Here her footnotes are few and far between. The subtle mockery of the academic is replaced at times with an earnestness that just doesn't work. Her stories become turgid and staid. Clarke needs to remember to not take herself too seriously.

If we compare the light and humorous "Antickes and Frets" with the abysmal "On Lickerish Hill" I think we can clearly see the two ends of the spectrum. "Antickes and Frets" dealing with Mary Queen of Scots and a new found obsession for embroidery is witty and droll in the many plots to bring down Queen Elizabeth, whereas "On Lickerish Hill" is a painful retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Firstly, did we really need yet another retelling of this tale? Rumpelstiltskin, while important in fairy lore to point out the importance of names, is easily the most boring fairy tale I can think of. But more importantly did it really need to be written in faux olde tyme language with horrid spelling and vocabulary? No it did not!

What is interesting to the Clarke fanatic though is comparing the differing views of the same world as presented in The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. What one clearly sees is that, as one suspected all along, the two great magician's of the age are more ignorant then they would like us to believe. There is a lot more going on in the world then these two learned gentlemen know or would like to admit. Magic has always stayed around, it hasn't "disappeared" as they so ominously prophesied. Yes, they did bring it back into the more glaring public arena, but it has been subtly continuing all along in out of the way places and often by people who you would least expect, like women and the other "lower orders." It makes the aforementioned fanatic long for her next book that supposedly sees this world through the eyes of these lower orders. Ah, the stories they could tell and hopefully one day will.

As to these women... what is interesting about Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is that, while there is a strong male presence, the book to me is subversively feminine. The narrator is female, and the power the men grasp for seems to have, in the past, been easily mastered by females, and probably still is if they'd bother to ask a female. If her first book is subversively feminine, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is overtly feminine. In only two of the eight stories are men the protagonists. Every other story revels in women and their powers. The stories even take great glee in repressed and oppressed women getting the better of their male counterparts. Magic still is strong in this domestic sphere. "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" and "Antickes and Frets" takes the magical power of women even further by showing a distinctly feminine art, that of embroidery, being used to magical purposes. So while it may be uneven, the message stays strong and provides a nice counterpoint to Clarke's previous work.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Agency: Rivals in the City by Y.S. Lee
Published by: Candlewick Press
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 2304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In a tale steeped in action, romance, and the gaslit intrigue of Victorian London, Mary Quinn’s detective skills are pitted against a cunning and desperate opponent.

Mary Quinn has a lot on her mind. James Easton, her longtime love interest, wants to marry her; but despite her feelings, independent-minded Mary hesitates. Meanwhile, the Agency has asked Mary to take on a dangerous case: convicted fraudster Henry Thorold is dying in prison, and Mary must watch for the return of his estranged wife, an accomplished criminal herself who has a potentially deadly grudge against James. Finally, a Chinese prizefighter has arrived in town, and Mary can’t shake a feeling that he is somehow familiar. With the stakes higher than ever, can Mary balance family secrets, conflicting loyalties, and professional expertise to bring a criminal to justice and find her own happiness?"

Yeah, finally a new book in this series!

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanna Ryder
Published by: Random House Children's Books
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of How to Train Your Dragon will love this whimsical tale, the first in a series, by a Newbery Honor winner, featuring charming illustrations and pet "training tips" in each chapter.

Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet—a ridiculous notion!

Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie’s sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake’s combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem . . . before it’s too late.

This refreshing debut collaboration by Laurence Yep, a two-time Newbery Honor winner and a Laura Ingalls Wilder Award winner, and Joanne Ryder features illustrations by Mary GrandPré."

This just sounds so gosh darn cute. Also Mary GrandPré!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Book Review - Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: September 30th, 2004
Format: Paperback, 1012 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Norrell is the only practical magician in England. He has devoted his life to finding, owning, and studying every book on magic and every book of magic he could beg, borrow, or steal. In Yorkshire, the heart of Northern England and The Raven King's domain, Mr. Norrell finds ways to eliminate all competition from theoretical magicians and plots how he will bring magic back to England. One would think eliminating magicians would be contrary to his goal, but Mr. Norrell disagrees. His destruction of the Learned Society of York Magicians provides an opportunity to get the press he needs through a John Segundus to herald his arrival in London. Norrell dreams that just removing himself from the confines of his home, Hurtfew Abbey, will have the government clamoring at this door begging for help with everything from the disgraceful street magicians who are nothing but swindlers to helping with the war with France.

But Norrell's views against fairy magic and his fusty nature make his entrance into society tricky. He eventually gets the ear of cabinet minister Sir Walter Pole, who quickly dismisses him. Yet a tragedy is about to change everything. Sir Walter's fiance dies and Norrell is encouraged to bring her back from the dead. Despite deploring fairy emissaries and assistants, he summons one who is indeed able to bring the future Lady Pole back from the dead, but not without exacting a terrible toll to all those Norrell knows. Norrell's new found popularity brings new opportunities, and despite all previous thinking that should another magician arise he'd hate them on sight, he instead decides to take the young Jonathan Strange as his pupil. The two quarrel and fight, but no one can deny that they have brought magic back to England, but at what cost to England, and more worryingly, at what cost to themselves?

You know that feeling you get when you find the perfect book? It's like finding a friend you'd never knew you'd missed or coming home, it was always a part of you even before you found it, a soul mate. That's what it was like when I first cracked open the pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Billed as Harry Potter for adults it's so much more. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has the sensibilities of Austen with the scope of Dickens with a readability for modern audiences. Yes, it is divisive, you either love it, as seen by it's numerous awards, our you hate it. But as for myself, I don't know if there's a way I can too strongly state my love for it, nor perhaps write a coherent and focused review, but that remains to be seen.

I have a plethora of copies from my first edition to later paperback ones, but despite how many editions I have the truth was, until recently, I'd only read the book the one time. If I loved the book so much to invest in multiple copies why read it only once? Because I was scared that this magical memory of it wouldn't sustain my scrutiny over ten years later. As you can no doubt see, I was wrong. The book was even better the second time around. I found more magic and nuance due to my extensive reading in the intervening years, and if anything the only quibble I have is that I really don't know how the BBC is going to make this into a successful miniseries, but only time will tell there.

The staging of the book in it's three volumes is wonderful in how each section builds off the previous and becomes more complicated and creates a deeper understanding of the world Clarke has built. We begin with Mr. Norrell, a rather typical and bookish grump who introduces us to his ideas on magic and we get a feeling for the world. Then we progress to Jonathan Strange, where the world is expanded and we start to question what we have already learned. We end, appropriately, with The Raven King, John Uskglass, who teaches us that all we think we knew is wrong. This mimics how we, as humans, learn. We study hard, we learn the lessons in our books, we start to question and we realize, like Jon Snow, we know nothing; and that in ignorance we are starting on the path of true knowledge.

More then anything Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a history book. Yes, it is a drastically altered history, but it's a believable one. What makes it such a rich tapestry is that Clarke is willing to take the time to tell us all the mythology and academic ephemera of past magician's and their work in order to round out her England. While I have read my fair share of history books, they aren't necessarily the most scintillating reads. Yet an aspect of history books that is a useful tool is the footnote. Never underestimate the joy of a good footnote. Yes the use of footnotes in fiction might be considered a trope nowadays, but I don't think it's a coincidence that my favorite authors all use footnotes to expand on their work and to do humorous asides. Terry Pratchett, Lisa Lutz, and Susanna Clarke all use footnotes to the betterment of their story, expanding the world at a slight angle to the rest of their narrative.

But everything I've mentioned so far just comes down to basic worldbuilding and writing techniques. Someone can be deft with these and still come up short when it comes to telling a good story. Where Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell really shines is in the dichotomy of England and the "safe" magic the magicians have practiced and the Otherworld, the realms of fairy, and the wild and dangerous magic that can rewrite the world. Fairy Tales, in their original non Happily Ever After origins, were dark and scary. Morality stories to keep women and children in line and to warn of dangers in the deep dark woods. There's a reason why witches were burned and magic was feared, something that Disney has helped us to forget.

Like Disney's whitewashing, The Raven King and other magicians have shown to people that perhaps fairies are good and there to help us. Clarke is here to show us once again that their nature is wild and mad, quite literally. The Gentleman with the thistle-down hair, or a more sadistic version of David Bowie's Goblin King as I like to think, embodies this evil madness. In deed, desire, and any and every way imaginable, this evil fairy shows that Norrell was right to fear them and that the true enemy of magic and man is vindictive fairies that are crazy beyond measure. They are the creatures to fear, they are the nightmare in the dark.

In fact, Fairy Tales are the original horror stories and Clarke does an amazing job in tapping into this. I have read horror stories and been left wanting by those considered the scariest and strangest. But in simple, straightforward yet elegant prose, Clarke is able to conjure up more horror then I experienced reading all of Danielewski's House of Leaves, whose house has no architectural style yet a banister, please. The King's Road is a thousand times scarier then the aforementioned house, with bridges spanning an eternity and rivers and moors of black desolation, all accessible through a mere reflection. That is the true horror. That this evil "other" world isn't fixed but can find it's way into your very house. You can be sitting in a chair and feel doors opening around you and long corridors stretching and a breeze where no breeze should be and the tingle of magic, and all while you felt safe in your snug little house. You are safe no more. Gives you a little chill just to think of it doesn't it?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke is like the Harper Lee of fantastical alternative history, she hit it out of the park with her first and only novel. If we want to get technical, she's more J.D. Salinger, having done the aforementioned novel and a compilation of short stories, but I have issues with Salinger, so Lee it is. Clarke spent most of her childhood traveling around the north of England devouring the works of Austen, Dickens, and Conan Doyle. After graduating from Oxford she spent some time abroad teaching English during which she first got the idea for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. "I had a kind of waking dream ... about a man in 18th century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background – he'd been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong."

Returning to England she worked in publishing while seriously contemplating starting what would become her masterpiece. She took a fantasy and science-fiction writing workshop taught by her future partner, Colin Greenwood, to come to grips with her writing. Greenwood was so impressed by the quality of her first story, as well as the polish for a first time writer, that he sent her story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, to his friend, Neil Gaiman, who was astounded by her assurance and said "It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata." The book was bought by Bloomsbury in 2003 and was published in 2004. My father read an early review of the book and said it sounded like it was right up my alley. I fell in love with it as soon as I started to read it. Two years later Bloomsbury published The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, named after the story which had so wowed Greenwood and Gaiman. She spent ten years writing one of my favorite books ever and ten years on I await with baited breath hoping that her new book will one day manifest itself. If not, she will remain my Harper Lee (minus recent developments), and I do have that miniseries adaptation to look forward to...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review - Patricia Briggs's Dead Heat

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
ARC provided by the publisher
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charles can count the people he loves and trusts on one hand. One of those people is mortal and is dying. Charles has known Joseph Sani for most of Joseph's life. He has seen him grow up, have a family, but it was too much to be around to see him decline. Though the time has come to face this hardship, to say goodbye. Charles and Anna set out for Arizona to visit Joseph and his family. The Sani's have made a name for themselves breeding Arabian horses and Charles plans to buy a horse for Anna for her birthday. But Charles encounters trouble in the Sani household. Joseph's dad is a werewolf and has been petitioning for his son the be changed, against Joseph's wishes it might be said. Hosteen views the argument still open until the day Joseph is in the ground and instantly harasses Charles on the subject. Yet this ongoing argument is put aside when Joseph's daughter-in-law is attacked by a powerful Fae and his grandchildren are almost killed. Charles and Anna look into the attack and come to the conclusion that a very powerful fairy is on the loose and children are in danger and it's up to them to stop it.

A new Patricia Briggs book is always a time to celebrate. To me she is the best writer currently of urban fantasy, the one who fills the hole in my heart left by Joss Whedon. Her books are the epitome of comfort reads, a time set aside to curl up with a good book, a cast of characters you love, and a warm blanket, with the world slipping away as you are drawn into the current mystery. And my, have I missed Anna and Charles! Having two years of Mercy back to back was lovely, but there's something about Anna and Charles that I just connect to. Not hearing from them in three years was hard to bear, like a friend who you've lost touch with. That incident in Boston, then nothing till now. Thank you for finally having the time to catch up with me.

The problem facing long running series is that you can get in a rut, you can get formulaic, and then Cousin Oliver happens. So far I continue to find Briggs's series both fresh and exciting, but there is something more compelling about the Alpha and Omega series. Yes, it could be that compared to Mercy it's newer and has less then half the books, but what I think it is is the way the series is set up to follow their story as they go to other locations then being confined to the Tri-Cities or Bon Temps or even Stars Hollow. Sometimes a change in scene is necessary to keep a story vibrant. I like how we start out and they're snug in their home then something happens and Anna and Charles are dispatched to the scene. Seattle, Boston, now Scottsdale! Plus with each location change we get a new set of characters to mingle with the old, providing a nice blend of the familiar and the strange.

But with each change in location we get a change in focus, and here, well, the focus was too much of the equine variety. I find it odd that in quick succession I have read two books that are very focused on horses. As I said in that other review, I've never been a horse person, but that doesn't mean that books featuring horses are a bad thing, they just have to be handled right. Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter handled horses right, in that she didn't become overly detailed and wrote the horses as characters so that you could connect to them. Goodwin did it right, Briggs did it wrong. I know Briggs is a horse enthusiast in the extreme, you can get that from her writing even if you didn't already know this, but she wasn't able to tamp down that enthusiasm to make horses accessible to those who aren't of her ilk. At one point in the book Anna gives up trying to figure out all the jargon spewing out of Charles and I think that if one of the characters in your book can't even keep up, well, you lost your readers a long time ago.

So much horse talk had a detrimental effect on the pacing of the book. At the beginning it was OK, the horses added atmosphere, but about three quarters of the way through the book when the bad guy is "caught" and everyone just pushes the horrors they've faced behind them and they all trot off to the horse show the book hits a deadly lull it can't recover from. There's still a quarter of the book left, so you know that something is going to happen, there's going to be a twist, but after a few hours with Anna and Charles in the bleachers at the horse show I couldn't care less what that twist was. This is right about the time Anna gave up too I might add. Yet it kept going. And going. And more horses. And yeah. I've been to state fairs, I've been to Dairy expos, I've been to events like this and never in my life did I think they could be written in a way that bored me almost literally to tears. All forward momentum left the book and I thought I'd be trapped with those creepy horse slash pageant kid combinations for all eternity. I never want to read about horses ever again.

But I really don't ever want to read about those creepy little kids that are dressed like western themed pageant kids, pink rhinestones and all, riding their horses. Shudder. Yet this version of children is just one of many, seeing as children are a big theme in this book. I was OK with Anna pressuring Charles about them having a child, this didn't seem out of place. The evil fairy that was the book's Big Bad and was kidnapping children for nefarious reasons, really really creepy and spooky and kept the plot ticking right along until the horses came and trampled all over it. And then the book shifted. Yes, there was a creepy kid vibe from the evil fairy but to couple that with this weird objectification of the children at the horse show? It went too far into the creepy. Add to that that Anna and Charles thought this was cute? Um, no. This kind of objectification leads to evil people preying on children. So in a book about bringing this kind of evil, though in immortal form, to justice while at the same time condoning cultural practices that can result in drawing the attention of evil... no. Just no. Yes, life is all about compromise, but let's compromise about having children or recovering from abuse, finding a middle ground where we can live with life's horrors, not finding a middle ground where the horrors are allowed to flourish.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs
Published by: Ace
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"THE NEW CHARLES AND ANNA NOVEL. Praised as “the perfect blend of action, romance, suspense and paranormal," the Alpha and Omega novels transport readers into the realm of the werewolf, where Charles Cornick and Anna Latham embody opposite sides of the shifter personality. Now, a pleasure trip drops the couple into the middle of some bad supernatural business.

For once, mated werewolves Charles and Anna are not traveling because of Charles’s role as his father’s enforcer. This time, their trip to Arizona is purely personal—or at least it starts out that way...

Charles and Anna soon discover that a dangerous Fae being is on the loose, replacing human children with simulacrums. The Fae’s cold war with humanity is about to heat up—and Charles and Anna are in the cross fire."

It's hard to decide if I look forward more to the Alpha and Omega books or to the Mercy Thompson books... either way, it's a new Patricia Briggs book and I'm a happy camper.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
Published by: Roc Hardcover
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The New York Times bestselling author of The Black Jewels Trilogy transports readers to a world of magic and political unrest—where the only chance at peace requires a deadly price…

The Others freed the cassandra sangue to protect the blood prophets from exploitation, not realizing their actions would have dire consequences. Now the fragile seers are in greater danger than ever before—both from their own weaknesses and from those who seek to control their divinations for wicked purposes. In desperate need of answers, Simon Wolfgard, a shape-shifter leader among the Others, has no choice but to enlist blood prophet Meg Corbyn’s help, regardless of the risks she faces by aiding him.

Meg is still deep in the throes of her addiction to the euphoria she feels when she cuts and speaks prophecy. She knows each slice of her blade tempts death. But Others and humans alike need answers, and her visions may be Simon’s only hope of ending the conflict.

For the shadows of war are deepening across the Atlantik, and the prejudice of a fanatic faction is threatening to bring the battle right to Meg and Simon’s doorstep…"

Yes please!

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by: Feiwel and Friends
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 240 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"When a young troll named Hawthorn is stolen from Fairyland by the Golden Wind, he becomes a changeling - a human boy - in the strange city of Chicago, a place no less bizarre and magical than Fairyland when seen through trollish eyes. Left with a human family, Hawthorn struggles with his troll nature and his changeling fate. But when he turns twelve, he stumbles upon a way back home, to a Fairyland much changed from the one he remembers. Hawthorn finds himself at the center of a changeling revolution - until he comes face to face with a beautiful young Scientiste with very big, very red assistant."

Yeah yeah, new Catherynne Valente, very exciting... anyone else thinking the creature on the cover is from the unholy union of Bagpuss and an undermined creature from Rainbow Brite? Or perhaps a Gummi Bear? 

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: March 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life."

YES! I love Michelle's books and I adore India! Only problem is... which book to read first this week?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Regency Magic

Jane Austen is perfection. I think the majority of us can agree on this. It's hard to beat perfection. In fact, I would say it's nigh on impossible, you can't get higher then the highest degree now can you? There's none more black. That is why I've never been a fan of retellings, reimaginings, or continuations of her works. It's not on. Her books are perfect in and of themselves, there doesn't need to be more. So stop. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but taken as a whole all they do is prove the rule. Jane Austen is magic, so how to write a book that is just as magical? Why not literally add magic? In fact there's more and more writers who are combining the Regency world of Austen with magic and I say yes! It's taking Austen to the next level and there's so many clever and unique ways all these different writers are taking to get there and I'm just along for the ride.

The first book I picked up with this unique fusion was Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and I was hooked. I am beyond excited that this wondrous book has finally been made into a miniseries by the BBC and that got me thinking... there are so many Regency books with a magical bent that perhaps now is the time to declare my love of them to the world. With the television adaptation of Susanna Clarke's book as well as the end of Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories series what better time for a celebration? So March and April are being dedicated to "Regency Magic" with author profiles, a few of whom are stopping by to answer some questions, reviews, a giveaway, and hopefully a bewitchingly good time! Now how about that giveaway?

The Prize:
A paperback copy of Susanna Clarke's The Ladies of Grace Adieu

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Thursday, April 30th at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: Would you choose to visit the magical version or non magical reality of Regency England?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, sidebar, twitter (please @eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
  • +10 for each comment you leave on other Regency Magic posts with something other then "I hope I win!" 
Good luck!

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